When the Rev. Anthony G. DeLuca retired in 1998 as pastor of North American Martyrs Catholic Church, he did not sever his ties to the Monroeville parish where he had served for 28 years.
"I belong here, and I hope someday to be buried from here," he told a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette correspondent in a story about his decision to step down at age 68.
Father DeLuca, who died Dec. 22, will get his last wish Friday. His funeral Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. that day at the church, 2526 Haymaker Road.
Suffering from a variety of age-related ailments, Father DeLuca passed away at the Willows Presbyterian Senior Care Nursing Home in Oakmont after an illness of several months. He was 83.
After his retirement he moved to an apartment in Monroeville. "He said he wanted to experience living on his own," Rita Dolan, a longtime friend, said Wednesday. "He said that buying his own groceries and paying his own bills gave him a greater appreciation of the struggles that parish members went through."
Father DeLuca was born in the town of Lago in Calabria, Italy, in 1929.
"He took great pride in being Italian," Mrs. Dolan said.
He was the son of the late Nicolo and Angela Rosina Mazzotta DeLuca. His father had gone to the United States to work, and he was raised by his mother, older sister and grandparents.
In 1940, at age 11, he entered a seminary school at the urging of his family, because it offered his best opportunity for a good education. After spending the war years in Italy, he came to the United States in 1947 to join his father, living then in Sharpsburg. He attended Saint Vincent College and Seminary in Unity.
He was ordained in 1953. His first assignments included serving at Immaculate Conception Church in Washington, Pa., Resurrection Parish in Pittsburgh's Brookline neighborhood, and the former St. Christine in Industry, Beaver County. Other duties included serving as director of lay volunteers for the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese. During his many years at North American Martyrs, he was active in the Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium.
It is rare for pastors nowadays to remain with the same congregation for almost three decades. "Priests move around much more quickly," Kathy Devine, a parish member for 27 years, said. "But he made the parish feel like a family ... going to church was like going home."
He was a strong supporter of the parish school at North American Martyrs. "He was great with kids," Mrs. Devine said. Children could figure out what special day was coming up next based on Father DeLuca's sartorial choices. "He always wore suspenders, and he had different pairs for each holiday," she said.
"He was a wonderful administrator and a terrific pastor -- kind and compassionate," Mrs. Dolan said. "But he could be tough. We had many a disagreement. I could always go and talk to him, and he always listened -- but that doesn't mean he changed his mind."
During his time as pastor of North American Martyrs, he oversaw the construction of a new church in 1980. One of his last official acts before retirement was to preside over the ceremonial burning of the mortgage on what was then an 18-year-old building.
No sooner was the church paid off than Father DeLuca presented his parish members with a new challenge. North American Martyrs would seek to help one of the poorest congregations in the country. Since 1998, the church has taken up two collections each year to benefit St. Paul Catholic Church on the Navajo reservation in Crownpoint, N.M. The Rev. Joseph G. Luisi, the current pastor of North American Martyrs, said his flock has been sending about $4,000 annually to aid St. Paul.
"He had been a good shepherd, faithful to his people," Father Luisi said of his predecessor. In retirement, Father DeLuca remained interested in the goings-on at the church and school. Each time Father Luisi went to visit and to give communion to Father DeLuca in a nursing home, he brought along the latest copy of the church bulletin. "He always wanted to know how everyone was doing," Father Luisi said.
Father DeLuca's work with the Monroeville Interfaith Ministerium was one sign of his strong belief in ecumenism. "He prayed for unity and sought to help people of other faiths," Father Luisi said.
His survivors include a younger brother, Louis of Bradford Woods, and five nieces and two nephews. His older sister, Maria Iuliano, died in Italy a few months earlier.
Visitation for Father DeLuca will continue 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. today at the Gene H. Corl Inc. Funeral Chapel & Cremation Center of Monroeville, 4335 Northern Pike. A Mass of translation will be held at North American Martyrs Church at 7 p.m. today with additional visitation until 9 p.m. A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Friday at North American Martyrs. Interment will follow at Good Shepherd Cemetery.
Memorial contributions are suggested to North American Martyrs School, 2526 Haymaker Road, Monroeville 15146.
Len Barcousky: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1159.